Tuesday, April 06, 2010

James Pete Johnson & Bessie Smith--"Backwater Blues"

James Baldwin--Another Country Book I Chapter 1:

"Vivaldo said nothing. His face was pale and angry and he concentrated on looking through his records. Finally he put one on the machine; it was James Pete Johnson and Bessie Smith batting out Backwater Blues."

"There's thousands of people, Bessie now sang, ain't got no place to go, and for the first time Rufus began to hear, in the severely understated monotony of this blues, something which spoke to his troubled mind. The piano bore the singer witness, stoic and ironic. Now that Rufus himself had no place to go--'cause my house fell down and I can't live there no mo', sang Bessie--he heard the line and the tone of the singer, and he wondered how others had moved beyond the emptiness and horror which faced him now."

Bessie Smith--"Empty Bed Blues"
"He got up and turned the record over. Then there was silence, except for the voice of Bessie Smith.

When my bed get empty, make me feel awful mean and blue

'Oh, sing it, Bessie,' Vivaldo muttered.

My springs is getting rusty, sleeping single like I do."

This kind of music has so many fans and authorities that I will not attempt to add to it here. While I do like the first song especially, and can understand why people would think it was something special, I am at the same time quite self-conscious about putting these up on my site here, and wouldn't have done it if it weren't for the references in the book. This is as yet music I admire rationally but do not respond to in any kind of visceral or emotional way, though I have quite strong emotions for the time period in which it originated as well as for much music that are derivations from or inferior imitations of it. This frigid appreciation is not restricted to the blues with me. I have it as well with certain important classical pieces, operas, and such.

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